Lisa and I continue a tradition that I grew up with in the Sperry household. Each year at Christmas, we watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life. I love a question Mary Bailey asks her husband George. “Have a hectic day?” To which he responds, “Oh yeah, another big red-letter day for the Baileys!”
Do you have any red-letter days? These are personally significant, never forget the day and time and place kind of days. I have a red-letter day. It was five years ago. I thought about it nearly every day while on the beach in August, remembering that it was five years ago. Each Sunday since the beach I have thought about it, remembering that it was five years ago. It was five years ago that together we spent significant time discerning God’s will regarding the next pastor of Calvary Community Church. And on December 2, 2012 he preached his first sermon as your pastor.
It Was Ten Years Ago
Genesis 16 concerns a personally significant, never forget the day and time and place kind of day. Listen to Genesis 16:3. “So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan…” Ten years ago, Abram took Sarai his wife along with all their stuff and made their way to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:5). When they came to the land of Canaan, the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). This is a red-letter day. We know that Abram thought it was a red-letter day because he built an altar right there on that very spot on that very day when God spoke to him. And we know that Abram had not forgot this personally significant day. In Genesis 15, the very next time that Abram hears God speak, Abram says, “Behold, you have given me no offspring” (v. 3). Not only had Abram not forgot this personally significant day, neither had his wife Sarai. Genesis 16 is about Sarai not forgetting this red-letter day. She is thinking about it, remembering that it was ten years ago.
Behold, The Lord Has Prevented Me
Genesis 16:1 sets up the whole chapter. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.” So far in Genesis, whenever Sarai is mentioned included is that she is Abram’s wife. Every time. When we first meet Sarai, Abram’s wife, we are also told that she was barren. She had no child (11:30). Those two things, Abram’s wife and she had no child, are brought up again here ten years later. Still Abram’s wife and still no child. In this culture, this was not good. It was a mark of success to have many children and a sad failure to have none. However, in this culture and in these ten years God had promised a child and this was good.
So, put it together. There is this cultural pressure or expectation to have kids. Sarai wants kids. Sarai has a promise from God that there will be kids. And after waiting, ten years of waiting there are no kids. Why did God make this promise and after all of this time, no kids? Why all the waiting? Abram is 85 years old now and it looks less and less likely that Sarai will have a child. What is going on? Better yet, what is God up to?
There is a difference with Sarai from ten years ago. She now has a servant; a female Egyptian servant named Hagar. Why do we need to know not only that Sarai has a female servant named Hagar, but that she is Egyptian? I tend to believe that Hagar was part of the riches that Pharaoh gave Abram while he was in Egypt (cf. Genesis 12:16). But there is more. In Genesis 12, Abram who was childless because his wife had borne no children, had a bare promise of God: you will have offspring. Then he encountered a famine. The famine was a threat to God’s promise. So, what did Abram do? He looked to Egypt.
Ten years later Sarai, Abram’s wife, still had borne him no children. And ten years later, all that she does have is a bare promise of God and tired patience. She has been waiting. She is getting older and as she gets older, so does Abram. Sarai is tired of waiting. So, what does she do? She looks to Egypt. This is why we are told that Hagar is Egyptian.
Again, why all this waiting? What is God up to? Listen to Sarai’s answer. She says to her husband, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.” Highlight the word prevented. It means to restrain or hinder or stopped. Just listen carefully to what Sarai is saying. God has prevented me. God has restrained me. God has hindered me. God has stopped me.
Think like Sarai for a moment. What has God kept from her? God had promised something and the promise is good. And he is keeping me from it. It is not that God is keeping the promise from me, it is that God is keeping me from the promise. Keeping thinking like Sarai. Why would God keep Sarai from something good?
Different But the Same
Genesis 16 is different, but it is also the same. It is different from Genesis 3, but it is also the same. In Genesis 3, the serpent introduces a thought about one particular tree in the garden of Eden. It is one particular tree that God said, “You shall not eat.” Why did God say that? It was for their good, but is there more to it than that? “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes shall be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). The serpent introduces the thought to Eve that what God said was for your good and God is now keeping you from this good. Therefore, Genesis 16 is the same as Genesis 3.
In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Sarai takes Hagar her servant just as Eve took the fruit (16:3; 3:6). In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Sarai gives Hagar to her husband just as Eve gave the fruit to her husband (16:3; 3:6). In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Abram listened to his wife’s voice just as Adam listened to his wife’s voice (16:2; 3:17).
Genesis 16 is just like Genesis 3. There is something the same. In both chapters, there is a lie. Someone feels, thinks that God is keeping them from something good. Fruit is good. A child is good. And yet, there are questions we ask that are reasonable of both chapters. Why would God plant a tree that he did not want anyone to eat? Why would God give a promise and make a person wait and wait and wait? What is God up to? The answer is the same for each question and both chapters. Depend on Me for your good. And in both chapters, we find those who depend on self. In both chapters is the thinking that I will depend on me for what is good. I will depend on me for what is not good. I will depend on me to get my good.
I Will Obtain Children
I want us to see how self-focused this thinking is. Listen to the end of Genesis 16:2. “Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” The word obtain means to build. Sarai will do what God will not do for Sarai. Instead, Sarai will do for Sarai. And she will use Hagar, a servant. It is all about Sarai depending on Sarai to get Sarai’s good. Literally verse two reads, “I may build [a family] through her.” Actually, this is more in the sense of, “I shall be built up through her.” Sarai is all about Sarai.
Abram takes Hagar and treats her as if she is his wife. And Hagar gets pregnant. Notice what then happens. “And when she [Hagar] saw that she conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress” (16:4). The word contempt means to despise or to think little of. Hagar the lowly servant from Egypt now thinks little of her boss. Sarai has become little in Hagar’s eyes! Hagar sees herself accomplishing what Sarai could never do…on her own. The irony of it all is that this was part of the point of all the waiting. God would give Sarai what was good. Part of the point of all the waiting was for Sarai to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. God would be glorified in giving Sarai her good.
I want us to see how this self-focused thinking continues. In Genesis 16, Sarai never calls her servant by name. It is never Hagar, just always my servant. Sarai always held a low view of Hagar. And now Hagar has a low view of Sarai. Sarai then says to her husband, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me” (v. 5). Note how often the word me appears. Sarai is all about Sarai.
And Sarai is not upset that Hagar is pregnant. This is not, “Oh no, what was I thinking and why did you listen to me?” This instead is, “Oh no, look at how I am being treated!” Sarai is blaming her husband for not stepping in and putting Hagar’s attitude in check. God will get you for this Abram!
In turn, Sarai will deal harshly with Hagar. We will get into this more next week with verses seven through sixteen, but just note the word harshly. Sarai will deal harshly with Hagar the Egyptian. It is the same word used in Exodus 1:11-12. This is how the Egyptians will treat the offspring of Abraham.
And Abram Listened to His Wife’s Voice
This was not the outcome Sarai envisioned. Sarai saw God keeping her from something good. So, Sarai sought to do for Sarai what God would not do. Sarai would get her good. It was the best news when Sarai heard that Hagar was pregnant. She had never been this close before to getting her good. She was about to get what she wanted, but then came the unexpected: Hagar’s attitude. It is this attitude that really upsets Sarai! And in her self-focused thinking she holds Abram responsible! She holds Abram responsible not for the pregnancy, but for her poor treatment.
Then Abram speaks for the very first time. He has not said a word in this whole chapter. “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Prior to this, he does not utter a word. Instead, he listens. He listened to his wife’s voice (16:2). Therein lies part of the problem. This does not mean that husbands should not listen to their wives. This just means that the time Abram should have spoken up was in verse two! It would only have taken three sentences. “The Lord has promised good to us. His word our hope secures. He will our shield and portion be as long as life endures.”
Part of the problem in Genesis 16 is that Sarai would depend on Sarai to get Sarai’s good. It is called self-reliance. Simpler than that, it is called pride. I do not want to be overly-critical of Sarai. Scripture calls her a holy woman who hoped in God (1 Peter 3:5). Holy women and holy men who hope in God do struggle with pride. And part of the point of Genesis 16, the reason for the ten years of waiting, is for Sarai to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. God would be glorified in giving Sarai her good.
We are blessed beyond what we could imagine. God is at work and it is marvelous in our eyes. Yet, it is so easy for pride to creep in. And when it does, it destroys. So, how do we combat pride? The disciples displayed pride (Mark 9). They demonstrated pride when they did not pray. They sought to serve God without prayer. Their prayerless attempt showed a self-reliance that is repugnant to God. Did you notice that Sarai and Abram never paused to ask God if this all was a good idea?
We pray because we desperately need God. Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God does not keep us from good. He wants us to see that He will do for us what we cannot do on our own. In so doing, He gets glorified (Psalm 118:23). So, I want to lead us in fighting pride in growing to be a church that is prayerful. Prayerful privately and prayerful corporately.
 Andrew Davis, Revitalize, page 94.